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Lakers Rumors: Latest Buzz Surrounding Los Angeles' Offseason Plans

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 3, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, right, drives past Oklahoma City Thunder's Paul George in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

While most teams in the cap-crunched NBA are figuring out how to make small splashes this summer, the Los Angeles Lakers are sprinting toward the free-agent pool yelling "Cannonball!"

This might feel like a familiar script, but the Lakers have several reasons to believe this could be their breakthrough offseason.

Jettisoning Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline opened the space for two max contracts on the payroll. The internal player development has this roster looking as appealing as any time in the post-Kobe Bryant era. And there's always the allure of a major market like Los Angeles, which could hold particular appeal to a couple of All-Stars who hail from Southern California.

Excited yet, Lakers Nation? You should be.

But enough buildup, let's get to the latest chatter regarding the Lakers' offseason plans.

                    

Latest Lakers Buzz

LeBron James and Paul George Remain Top Targets

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 20:  Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game at Quicken Loans Arena on January 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

This nugget could come across as a "Duh!" given how long L.A. has been connected to James and George.

Still, Adrian Wojnarowski provided recent clarity on an ESPN Los Angeles radio appearance that the Lakers remain as committed as ever to the James-plus-George pursuit:

ESPNLosAngeles @ESPNLosAngeles

“The Lakers plan hasn’t changed. They want to get both of them." - @wojespn on Lakers going after Lebron & Paul George

George, a native of nearby Palmdale, has never shied away from divulging the appeal of suiting up back home.

"I would say almost everybody in this league would love to play at home," George said at his exit interview, via SI.com's Nihal Kolur. "I won't say that's a lie. Everybody would love to play for their home [team] in one way or another."

Pairing George with Brandon Ingram would give the Lakers two long, athletic, interchangeable pieces on the defensive end. George, a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter, would also supply needed spacing to a Lakers attack that finished tied for 20th in three-point makes (10 per game) and second-to-last in perimeter percentage (34.5).

As for James—the Association's resident big fish—he'd be a massive get for anyone. Theoretically, he should be slowing down at age 33, but his 2017-18 stat line—27.5 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds—was unprecedented.

That said, it's harder to gauge James' interest in the Lakers or any other potential suitor.

The four-time MVP has been tight-lipped about his plan—possibly because he doesn't have one yet. But if you want a reason to feel optimistic about the Lakers' chances, they're reportedly one of four teams he's considering, league sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

                 

Lakers Expected To Chase Kawhi Leonard Trade

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Free agency isn't the only potential path to a top-shelf player this summer.

If the San Antonio Spurs make Kawhi Leonard available after a confusing, injury-riddled campaign, the Lakers reportedly want in on the bidding.

"I think they go in hard for Leonard once this season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio," an executive told Sean Deveney of Sporting News. "[Leonard] wants to go to L.A. ... He's an L.A. guy, and he can just let teams know he won't re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers."

Leonard, assuming he can put his nagging quadriceps injury behind him, is like a turbo-charged version of George.

Leonard has two Defensive Player of the Year awards and an NBA Finals MVP honor already under his belt. He finished third in last season's MVP voting—one spot ahead of James—after averaging career highs in points (25.5), assists (3.5) and player efficiency rating (27.6). ESPN's all-encompassing real plus-minus pegged Leonard fifth in the entire league that season.

If that makes you wonder why the Spurs would deal him, that's because it should.

But there are at least clouds around his future in the Alamo City. He rehabbed away from the team. He's eligible for a super-max contract extension this summer. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich often responded to inquiries about Leonard's status with instructions to ask "his group," per USA Today's Sam Amick.

And that's not all.

"Multiple league sources also told ESPN that the Spurs have grown worried that Leonard's group has an ulterior motive to fray the relationship and get Leonard traded to a larger market such as Los Angeles (Leonard's hometown)," Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright reported.

Leonard would finally give L.A. its post-Kobe centerpiece, more so than even George would. Leonard has carried his club to higher heights and produced superior statistics. And who knows, maybe he'd appeal more to James as a superstar sidekick.

                

Frigid Free-Agent Market for Isaiah Thomas?

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Sorry, I.T., but that Brinks truck isn't coming.

Logic could have already led to that conclusion after Thomas, slowed by a lingering hip ailment, couldn't duplicate his 2016-17 breakout season and fell flat in a contract year. He split the campaign between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lakers, seeing his scoring average nearly sliced in half (from 28.9 to 15.2) and his shooting marks down dramatically from the field (46.3 to 37.3) and outside (37.9 to 29.3).

Now, there's confirmation his bank account will likely pay the price for his struggles.

"Just given the way he played last year, I think you can't go more than one year on him," an executive told Deveney. "Maybe you can do two years if you hold the second year at your option. That's before you even get into whether he is healthy."

Thomas' hip ailment forced him out of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals and prematurely ended this past campaign with surgery in March. While he declared the problem "fixed" in April, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register, executives sound less than convinced.

"Do you want to pay him $12 or $14 million when you know you're also paying for all the headaches that his health could give you?" a general manager asked Deveney. "Someone will get him, but it's going to be a low-risk deal."

The Lakers have reportedly kicked around the idea of re-signing Thomas, per Wojnarowski, but possibly only on a short-term deal. Even then, it might only happen if L.A. comes up short in its All-Star pursuits and needs one-year contracts to preserve its cap space for next summer.

                

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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